Happy birthday, Shelley Long: The 'Cheers' actress turns 63

Claudine Zap
Yahoo! TV

Raise a glass to toast Shelley Long on her 63rd birthday. The actress will always be known for playing prissy and pretentious waitress Diane Chambers, who had an on-and-off romance with the bartender Sam (Ted Danson) on the hit sitcom "Cheers."

The actress went on to star as Carol Brady in the "Brady Bunch" movies and on TV shows like "8 Simple Rules" and "Boston Legal," and she has a recurring role as Jay's ex-wife DeDe in the ABC hit "Modern Family."

Long may be as well known for leaving "Cheers" as being on it. At the height of the '80s sitcom's popularity, Long said "ciao" to "Cheers."

So what led Long to leave? After an Emmy and two Golden Globes for the role, the actress made a controversial decision back in 1987 to depart the show when her contract ended to pursue a film career and spend more time with her daughter. She went on to star in "Outrageous Fortune," "Hello Again," and "Troop Beverly Hills," which never measured up to the same level of success as her TV series.

That ill-fated decision earned her a spot on Time's "Top 10 Quitters" list, which called the departure "one of the greatest career stumbles in show-business history."

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The stumble may have had something to do with her time on set. The cast was rumored to be fraught with in-fighting, and Long was said to be more like her overbearing character than she wanted to admit.

Danson revealed that not everything was perfect between the two of them in an interview with People magazine back in 1987 when he said, "Our relationship, Shelley's and mine, has included not being happy with each other and being happy with each other." Long agreed separately, "Terrible teasing went on in the relationship and outside the relationship, but our energy went into our work and it paid off."

The mom of one suffered some personal low points since the career high of “Cheers.” She and husband Bruce Tyson, father of their daughter Juliana, split in 2003. And the star suffered a health setback in 2004, when she was hospitalized after an accidental overdose of pain medication.

The actress, who stars in Hallmark Movie Channel's new film "Strawberry Summer" (debuting this weekend), told DFW.com, "It made me rethink things. Also my mother's fragility and mortality have made me consider my own… It makes me think of fond memories and great times in the past and also how short life is."

Back in 1987, Ted Danson seemed happy to see Long go. "The relationship was beginning to slow down," he told People magazine. "I think it's wonderfully appropriate on all levels that Shelley decided to leave. I think the relationship had been done."

Watch Sam and Diane's "Cheers" farewell scene right here:

Long was replaced by Kirstie Alley, and the show continued for another six seasons. Long never seemed worried that her departure in any way sabotaged the show. She told People of her decision, "'Cheers' will do just fine without me."

Speaking to an Australian television station in 2007, Long explained, "I didn't want to keep doing the same episode over and over again and the same story. It had been a fresh and vital experience for me. I didn't want it to become old and stale."

She added, "Working at 'Cheers' was a dream come true. It was one of the most satisfying experiences of my life. I missed it, but I never regretted that decision."